I remember watching my elderly Grandmother’s shaking fingers shave the crisp, green peel off a Granny Smith apple with such precision that not a single sliver of apple was left on the peel. The long, curling apple peel fell to her archaic bowl as her eyes lit up with the obvious satisfaction of yet another perfectly peeled apple. The peel quickly fell as her wrinkled yet sparkling eyes looked up at me- ready to teach a life lesson for the visit. You must understand- my Mema was not a chatty person, but when she did talk, it was almost as if the whole world came to a screeching halt to hang on to every wise word.
At the ripe age of 10-years-old, Mema told me that there were only two things in life that I needed to hold on to. As a lifelong teacher who retired in her mid-70’s, I was certain that she was going to tell me that my education was the most important thing or that without God, nothing mattered. What came out of her mouth on that dripping hot summer day echoes in my mind so loudly that I feel like a bright-eyed innocent 10-year-old again.
“Honey, the only things you have to hold on to are your dreams and your hope.”
She went on to tell the story of how her blind Grandmother taught her how to perfectly peel an apple not so she would have a flawless apple, but so every apple would be a reminder to passionately pursue her dreams so that she would have hope for her future.
These two lessons are at the core of who I am and what Choice has built our sturdy foundation on.
1. Define your dream, give it a deadline, and work for it relentlessly.
The mission of Choice is to empower every child with the knowledge, skills, character, and work ethic to achieve the American Dream. Our mission doesn’t say that some children are empowered or that only the lucky ones should dream. Our mission says that every child has a dream and an opportunity to create the life that they want. This means that every single child has a shot at a better life. The good news is that every child eventually grows up and becomes an adult with a dream.
As a leader in the company, I am determined to not let a single dream fizzle out. Instructional Aides often come to us with a dream of being a teacher. Teachers come to us with a dream of being a school leader. School leaders come to us with a dream of being a superintendent. Because of this, we have mindfully crafted several programs that enable our Choice family to hang on to their dreams and intentionally develop them. Over 40 individuals have successfully completed our yearlong Future Leaders Institute (FLI), which gives emerging leaders the tools they need to successfully transition to a school leader role. Over 60% of our FLI graduates have effectively begun their school leader career either with Choice or in other school districts who regarded the completion of the Future Leaders Institute as a major selling point for that employee.
We are also launching a new program in the fall of 2015 called The Choice DNA. The Choice DNA will provide highly effective teachers who are seen as instructional leaders within their school community with intense training on differentiated instruction, accelerated schools, data driven instruction, and the Choice turnaround model. We have learned that not all teachers want to be Principals, but many are stellar instructional leaders who dream of becoming even stronger and more successful instructional leaders and coaches. The Choice DNA will give them the opportunity to develop that skill set and be equipped as the instructional experts and trainers at their Academy.
Mema would have told you that people who were once passionate “don’t burn out, they flame out.” There couldn’t be more truth to this statement. Passionate people may sometimes be running on empty and feel like their dream has died, but their passion can always be reignited with their hope. Choice aims to keep the passion burning and the dream alive!
2. Create an atmosphere of hope for the future.
Choice is a faith-based, family owned company. Being a faith-based company doesn’t mean that someone has to believe in the same God as me or worship the same way that I do. Being faith-based and living a faith-based life is a complex subject, but it means one simple word when it comes to Choice. That word is hope. We have hope because we have faith: faith that the school boards who hire us truly trust us to carry out their mission, faith that school leaders always have what’s best for children at the forefront of their decisions, faith that teachers will never ever give up on a single student’s dream just because of that child’s circumstances, faith that the food service staff will carefully select meals that will properly nourish brains so students are ready to learn… the list goes on and on.
Those who embrace Choice’s faith and passionate hope for the future trust that they are part of the Choice family. Families embrace, nurture, and develop one another with the hope for a better tomorrow. Families also celebrate one another’s successes with great joy and pride. We are so proud of Clare Shubert from West Michigan Academy of Environmental Science and Shaya Helbig from Benton Harbor Charter School Academy for being two of five finalists for the highest honor a charter school teacher in Michigan can receive: Michigan’s Charter School Teach of the Year Award. Clare and Shaya are two teachers who never give up on a child and are always fostering their student’s dreams by giving them hope.
The Academy Board at Three Oaks Public School Academy in Muskegon was faced with a difficult decision several years ago when they received official notice from their Authorizer that the school would close at the end of the year due to academic achievement and governance issues. The Board could either walk away or dive in. The Board courageously dove in and chose Choice to install our proven turnaround model that focuses on high levels of behavioral accountability through our traditional discipline program, character development through our proprietary Character Choices program, and a laser-sharp focus on academic achievement. The entire school community had hope that the Choice model would work, trusted the Choice family of educators to carry it out, and constantly kept the dream of being a high performing school alive. Because of this, Three Oaks was recently recognized by Bridge Magazine as being the highest ranked elementary school in the entire County and the 12th best elementary school in Michigan, beating out some of the most affluent districts. As Robert Schuller would teach us, Three Oaks’ hope, and not their hurts, shaped their future.
I am thankful for the lessons that my wise Mema gifted me with the image of the green apple about hopes and dreams. I can still picture her peeling that apple with a glisten in her eye teaching me how I, too, can make my dreams come true if I have hope and work relentlessly to achieve them.